Lately, my body and mind have been craving yoga so I’ve been Downward Dogging things up a few times a week. Inspired by everything I’ve heard about Bikram (as well as by the introductory $29/first month rate at Bikram Yoga Chicago), I decided to try the 90-minute sweat-soaked workout. The result? I LOVED it!
Basically, Bikram (aka hot yoga) consists of a series of 26 poses, each repeated twice, all performed in a sauna-like room. I showed up for my first class expecting the room to smell like armpits but it was surprisingly stink-free, maybe just a hint of bleach. But while the room was devoid of BO, it was FULL of something else: People. Tons of people. Men and women, about 80 of us, all packed in tight rows with maybe two feet between mats. And no one was really wearing anything. I mean, yes our special bits were covered, but barely. Men go topless, women wear tiny sports bras and booty shorts (I wore a sports bra and lucy running shorts – I’m not ready to execute Standing Bow Pose in spandex Daisy Dukes.)
In terms of body diversity, the class was a rainbow. Although mostly everyone in the class looked fit and lean (there were maybe one or two women who would ordinarily be considered overweight, but you could tell they workout out and did Bikram a lot), one of my favorite aspects of Bikram was how different we all looked. When you’re clad in nothing more than a bathing suit, you really see people in a special, naked light. You see scars and tattoos, muscles and striations. A man in front of me had what looked almost like whip marks striated across his back; another had a gigantic tribal tattoo on his. An African American woman with vitiligo was in the front row, completely unashamed to reveal her skin (and rightfully so.) It was like Locker Room Diaries, but way sweatier.
The workout itself wasn’t that intense – the most difficult pose was probably Triangle (click here and select “Poses” to see the 26 poses) – but the incredible heat ratchets up the effort level. At certain points, my heart was racing and I actually got dizzy once or twice, requiring a break. And the amount of sweat bursting from my pores was impressive. By the end of class, my full-sized beach towel was so thoroughly saturated that it made a squishing noise when I moved around.
My favorite part of the class, though, was not the physical workout, but the body image strengthening I underwent.
You wouldn’t think this kind of environment, full of near-naked, sweaty, uber-fit bodies, would promote a positive self-image, but it DOES! The thing is, you’re so busy concentrating on holding your pose and breathing through the asana and blinking back the sweat that you simply don’t have the time or wherewithal to look at/compare yourself to other women in the class. Even better, you’re so laser-focused on the yoga that you don’t have the time or wherewithal to berate yourself, as many of us do when working out in front of a mirror. And the fact that there were hot bare-chested men within arm’s reach on my left and right (the studio is in Boystown, hooray!) didn’t make me feel at all insecure because I basically forgot they were there. You’re twisting and bending and stretching in little clothes and close quarters – it’s actually quite intimate – but I never once thought, “Did he see that roll when I bent over for Half Moon?” or “Did I just stick my cellulite in his face during Balancing Stick?” My thoughts basically mirrored what a furry dog on a steamy summer day would be thinking: “Hot. Hot. Water. Drink. Pant. Water. Hot. Is that a bird?! Pant. Pant. Must lie down.”
If you’re into yoga and looking for a challenge, I encourage you to try it! If you do, please let me know what you think! Don't forget to drink a TON of water, release your inhibitions along with your hamstrings, and enjoy.
Want to learn more about how yoga can make you feel hotter inside and out? Read "Downward Dogging Your Way to a Better Body Image."